In Cyprus, segregation between education and care is prevalent; as a result, numerous challenges surround services addressed to younger children. According to Mills et al. (2013), “Cyprus is among the 14 countries which have failed to meet the targets for formal childcare of children under the age of three and aged three years to mandatory school age.” The report prepared by Mills et al. also suggests that in Cyprus more than half of the children under 3 years of age are being cared for informally. A report prepared by Bouget et al. (2015) notes that “Cyprus is among the countries with less developed early childhood education and care (ECEC) systems and the processes taken to address ECEC deficits is slow.”
The dichotomy that characterizes ECEC and the subsequent integration of services poses challenges for the professionalization of the ECEC sector. On the one hand, ECEC dichotomy results in ECEC workers having different qualifications depending on the preschool program at which they work. In Cyprus, infant/toddler professionals working in child care centers have a 2-year diploma qualification from one of the private higher education institutions or a 3-year infant care qualification from a Greek higher education institution. “Child minders” working in the field have no formal qualifications apart from a certificate for passing secondary education requirements (Loizou, 2007; Oberhuemer, Schreyer, & Neuman, 2010; Rentzou, 2016). On the other hand, all kindergarten teachers in the public sector are university graduates. However, kindergarten teachers often work with infants and toddlers without having the specific skills and knowledge required for this age group. In fact, a recent research in Cyprus (Loizou & Charalambous, 2016) showed that kindergarten teachers reflecting on their own pedagogical approach acknowledge that they employ teacher-led approaches with these age groups and that they lack the skills, qualifications, and knowledge to integrate education and care approaches. Overall, the segregation evident at ECEC workers’ level is not in line with research results that suggest “quality in ECEC is dependent upon competent staff who are capable of working within a holistic framework, [and] understand the concepts of ‘care’ and ‘education’ to be interdependent and on equal footing” (Peeters et al., 2016).
However, problems seem to surround preschool programs as well. In fact, according to the law, the group size in kindergarten schools is 25, a number that is not in line with recommendations from international organizations. Further, anecdotal data suggest that emphasis is put on preschoolers’ academic skills (an argument that may be further supported by the structure of the Guide produced for kindergarten teachers, which can be found at: http://www.schools.ac.cy/klimakio/themata/proscholiki_ekpaidefsi/ekdoseis/odigos_proscholiki.pdf) and children do not have many opportunities for free play. Here, we have to stress that the National Curriculum for pre-primary education was revised in 2016 (http://www.schools.ac.cy/klimakio/themata/proscholiki_ekpaidefsi/analytiko_programma/dee_nip_proscholiki_ekpaidefsi.pdf).
Finally, the recently released PISA Results (OECD, 2016) suggest that Cypriot students’ performance in science, mathematics, and reading is not as good as the OECD average, and the results have been stable since 2006.
The status of ECEC in Cyprus and the PISA findings, combined with research results that highlight the benefits of high-quality ECEC for children’s short- and long-term overall development and academic achievements (for an overview, see Rentzou, 2011; Melhuish et al., 2015), highlight the need to urgently improve the quality of ECEC services available in Cyprus.
Bouget, D., Frazer, H., Marlier, E., Sabato, S., & Vanhercke, B. (April 2015). Social investment in Europe. A study of national policies 2015. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.
Loizou, E. (2007, September). System of early education/care and professionalisation in Cyprus. Report commissioned by the State Institute of Early Childhood Research (IFP). Munich, Germany. Retrieved from http://www.ifp.bayern.de/imperia/md/content/stmas/ifp/commissioned_report_cyprus.pdf
Melhuish, E., Ereky-Stevens, K., Petrogiannis, K., Ariescu, A., Penderi, E., Rentzou, K., Tawell, A., Leseman, P., & Broekhuisen, P. (2015). A review of research on the effects of early childhood education and care (ECEC) on child development. Report submitted to Brussels as part of the WP4.1 Curriculum and quality analysis impact review, CARE. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission.
Mills, M., Präg, P., Tsang, F., Begall, K., Derbyshire, J., Kohle, L., & Hoorens, S. (2013). Use of childcare services in the EU Member States and progress towards the Barcelona targets. Short Statistical Report No. 1. Prepared for the European Commission Directorate-General for Justice. Unpublished manuscript.
Oberhuemer, P., Schreyer, I., & Neuman, M. (2010). Professionals in early childhood education and care systems. European profiles and perspectives. Farmington Hills, MI: Barbara Budrich Publishers.
OECD. (2016). PISA 2015 results (Volume I): Excellence and equity in education. Paris, France: PISA, OECD Publishing
Peeters, J., Sharmahd, J., & Budginaitė, I. (2016). Professionalisation of childcare assistants in early childhood education and care (ECEC): Pathways towards qualification. NESET II report. Luxembourg, Luxenbourg: Publications Office of the European Union, doi:10.2766/898530
Rentzou, K. (2016). Mapping gender segregation in pre-primary and primary education in Cyprus. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 1-22. doi:10.1177/1060826516658765
Rentzou, K. (2011). Evaluating the quality of care and education provided by preschool centers. An approach by researcher’s, educators’ and parents’ perspectives (Unpublished PhD thesis). University of Ioannina (in Greek), Ioannina.